Remote online notarization technology, or RON, was on the horizon long before COVID-19 disrupted the way people live and work. The pandemic impacted businesses in unprecedented ways, so maintaining operational capacity is a high priority.
Governments at the state and federal levels are now considering remote notarization to reduce the risk of new COVID-19 infections. New Jersey is moving in this direction faster than New York, but both states plan to adopt the technology rapidly.
Remote Online Notarization, Possible Federal Option
Legislation is being introduced jointly by Republican senator Kevin Kramer from North Dakota and Mark Warner, Democrat from Virginia. The Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020, or SECURE Act, is Senate Bill 3533. The bipartisan bill establishes baseline or minimal rules that apply to any remote or electronic notarization involving interstate commerce.
The SECURE Act would accomplish the following:
- All notaries in the U.S. will be authorized to perform remote online notarization utilizing multi-factor authentication.
- This authorization would expand to all the states. Currently, only 23 states permit remote notarization: Wisconsin, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, North Dakota, Nevada, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, Idaho, Florida and Arizona.
Changes in New York, New Jersey
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, documents in New York and New Jersey could not be notarized online. The pandemic prompted the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to issue an executive order permitting remote notarization up until April 18, 2020. Each person must submit a legible copy of all signed documents to the notary directly. This can be done by fax or other electronic means. All copies must be legible. It must be done on the same day of the signing.
The following conditions must also be met in order to qualify to use authorized audio-video equipment in lieu of in-person meetings:
- A valid photo ID must be present during the actual video conference with the notary.
- Signers are not permitted to provide the photo ID before or after the session.
- The photo ID is required if the individual is not already known by the notary.
- To qualify, the video conferencing equipment must enable direct interaction between the notary and the signer.
- Pre-recorded videos showing the signature happening are not valid.
- The person signing documents must be located within New York state.
New Jersey, Moving Slower Towards Remote Notarization
Bill A-3864 was initiated on March 19, 2020. The proposal is now in the New Jersey state legislature. After Governor Murphy signs the bill, it will still take 90 days to go into effect. This law excludes wills and cases involving family law such as divorce and adoption.
Notaries received instructions to conduct window-separated signings during the 90-day period. During this time, cell phones, Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and other digital tools are invalid. Notaries must use communication methods that enable both sound and sight through a window. Social distancing, sanitizing and universal health precautions must be applied whenever the Notary handles IDs, documents or personal materials.
Remote online notarization is proposed as a potential national solution because window-separated signings are impractical at this scale. As the spread of COVID-19 increases the sense of urgency, more states seek to expedite approval and implement remote online notarization.
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